14 January 2008

Book Review: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

2008 TBR Challenge #2

Cranford High society in the little village of Cranford is dominated by women; the gentlemen are apt to spend a lot of time away. The result is revealed by a frequent visitor to the village. She watches them all: efficient, managing Miss Jenkyns and her timid sister Miss Matty; patient Miss Jessie; and the rather high-and-mighty Mrs Jamieson, and the rest. And over the years she accompanies them on such adventures as Cranford has to offer, from deaths, marriages and bankruptcies to burglars, magicians and even a headless ghost.

The most noticeable characteristic of Cranford is its near-total lack of plot. There are some threads that span more than one chapter, but essentially it is a series of events sharing location and narrator and separated by indeterminate periods of time. Yet it works beautifully. Miss Mary Smith’s sharp observations bring the town and its residents to memorable life (Mrs Jamieson’s horror at the egalitarian ways of her titled relation particularly sticks in my mind). The chronology was hard to pin down and I soon gave up trying to work out how much time had passed between one chapter and the next. And I came to decide that it didn’t much matter; Cranford seemed a place where things carried on in their own way, without being much influenced by outside events. It has a character and charm all its own and is well worth a visit.

Rating: A

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776